The Secrets to Success in Illustration
I just experienced one of the most useful Saturdays I’ve had in a long time, all thanks to the Association of Illustrators. They held a day of talks on from some very talented and experienced illustrators and people working in the children’s book industry, and I was a lucky crowd member. It’s a scarily competitive world if you step foot down the path of children’s book illustration and publication, but it’s also my dream world. I’m a full time web designer and I’m super fortunate for that to be my day job, but I do still have ambitions to illustrate, especially for kids, and this conference gave me some invaluable advice.
Chris Haughton and Claudia Boldt were first on the line-up; two award winning illustrators who have recently cracked the industry code. Haughton has this amazing ability to make characters from simple shapes and bright colours that are full of personality and are pretty damn hilarious too. His story about an owl who has fallen out of his tree and lost his mum has just the right about of cute and comedy:
Boldt similarly has the ability to make images full of character and have the ability to make both children and adults laugh. She gave some great advice on the importance of making dummy books to show publishers. I also love the fact that she’s embraced non-digital methods of image making, like linocut, and has explored bookbinding, something which is sadly (I think) getting lost now that self-publishing can be done so simply online.
Fig Taylor, portfolio consultant at the AOI gave a talk which seemed to fill a ridiculous number of pages in my notebook. She really gave some great advice on what to show agents and publishers, and I do feel more confident and motivated in getting my work out. For example, I had no idea how different the European and American markets are, and to really impress publishers your work should ideally work on a universal level. Also, I never realised how different illustration can be for trade purposes to educational. If you want more priceless nuggets of industry secrets I’d check out her book.
Next up was Deirdre McDermott, picture book publisher for Walker Books. I really loved how passionate she was about the books, and it made me remember how important it is to pour my own passion into the illustrations I do.
Then lunch. I took this opportunity to visit the Whitechapel Gallery seeing as I was so close and I’ve never been before. It was another barrage of inspiration, but I’ll have to save that for another post. After pocketing some more free biscuits, we were back in our seats for Alex T. Smith, illustrator of Eliot Jones, Midnight Superhero, and the Claude series. I loved hearing about how he finds his inspiration, which ranged from his Grandfather to saucy sea-side postcards to strangers on the street.
To close the show, the legend that is Tony Ross took the stage. I clearly remember being home sick from school one day, and a cartoon came on, featuring a little princess who needs her potty. The ending had me and my mum in fits of giggles, and she managed to surprise me with the book a little while later.
So I knew he was a pro from that, as well as the Horrid Henry series, but I had no idea quite how talented he was – he showed tiny 1” square watercolours he had made for a book published in the 1980’s, The Tale of Admiral Mouse, which blew me away. He was just the perfect example of a legendary illustrator who has been prolific (2,000 books!) and he really made me want that career even more.
Enough writing! Time for some drawing :)